Cydonia: Mars: The First Manned Mission

1998 Aneiva
Designed by Will Shepherd, Chris Freeman; Shawn Gately, Hank Hatcher
Reviewed 1999 October 14

Rating -5 Linearity narrow, branching
Reasonability silly Connectivity moderate
Difficulty challenging Relevance weak
Interface 1st 360 simple Real-time minor

Something bad has happened on earth, forcing the surviving population into orbit. This isn't a good long term solution, so a manned mission is sent to Mars as a scouting mission for colonisation. There's evidence of alien intelligence there, and your ship is disabled by a protective electromagnetic shield. After the crash, it is up to you to figure out how to disable the shield so that the emergency escape pod can take the crew back to the orbital ship.

There's a good premise for a game hiding in here, but it's not followed through. Why earth had to be abandoned isn't clear: it looks like an outbreak of excessive vulcanism, but your character later blames it on humans. Whatever, the story is not part of the game. It's all an excuse to have unfathomable aliens who like watching rats run through mazes. I.e., you run through a series of puzzles and riddles that have no purpose in the story or setting. The amazing alien technology means that the puzzles don't have to make any kind of physical sense. Yet the aliens aren't able to just read your mind to determine your worth, and of course your worth determines the worth of the whole race. They've been watching us but couldn't figure that out until you successfully complete a peg jumping puzzle.

The challenges are all puzzles and riddles. A few are good, but many are just make-work, sometimes excessively so. A bad interface exaggerates the tedium of several challenges. Some challenges make no sense: they require you to construct a pattern, with no clue to the type of pattern, and there are several patterns that can be constructed.

Cydonia is pretty, with pleasant graphic design and good sound and music. The interface has several annoying problems, though. If you leave your mouse for a few seconds (say, to take notes), the view starts wandering about. I suppose it's some kind of screen-saver, but it's just annoying with so short a fuse.

A bigger annoyance is the inventory. You have to click to activate, then move your mouse to an icon to open the inventory, then click on the object you want to use (possibly scrolling first), then click again to select that object for use, and finally click to actually use the object. This wouldn't be bad for some problems, but Cydonia freqently requires you to juggle many objects when solving a challenge.

Cydonia also creates a whole alien language. Your suit's computer can translate (it's not explained how this knowledge was ever obtained), and the game has an easy interface for translation. Unfortunately, this interface is only used once, and there are several other places where translation is needed. Instead of just automatically scanning and translating, you have to translate the text by "hand", using an alternate part of the interface.

Despite the five CDs, this is a short game, assuming you don't get hung up forever on some challenges. They're arranged by game location, so swapping usually isn't bad, but there are a few stretches where you have two or three quick changes to make.

The story doesn't make much sense, and the lack of integration between the challenges and the locale doesn't allow for any sense of ambience. This causes the game to fail as an adventure. With a lot of tedious make-work and non-sensical puzzles, it doesn't work as a puzzle game, either.

Beware! Here are some spoiler-ridden notes on the game. They're only recommended for people who have played the game and want to see some of my rationale for my evaluations.
David Tanguay's Game Reviews
Here's a description of all the gobbledygook in these reviews. It's also a bit of an essay on the nature of adventure games.